20.01.2015
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Danny Dunn And The Voice From Space (Danny Dunn, #10) [PDF]

by Jay Williams
Another fine entry in the Danny Dunn series, this time focused on radio telescopy and thermodynamics, with some nicely subtle commentary on communication.

Professor Bullfinch invents a "thermoelement" or "cryostat" (which Danny dubs The Zero-Maker), a self-contained, compact electron-driven heat pump that could prove useful in inexpensively cooling the masers used in radio telescopes.With the help of his old friend Dr. Hubert Badger (expert in SETI type astronomy), they convince Sir Edward Pomfret to test it out on his radio telescope array in England for Project GNOME, allowing the entire cast of characters (even the parents!) to travel abroad, meet new people (Meg Lucas, daughter of the innkeeper and her pet monkey Mr. Parsley) and perhaps be present at the first reception of a message from space!

What impresses about this installment is how subtly Williams weaves in the underlying message about communication - how difficult it is, how easily messages and intentions can be misconstrued (Danny thinks Dr. Badger is a hobo when they first meet, Bullfinch and Pomfret bickered years ago over trivial matters), meeting new people, being a persuasive speaker (despite Irene's statement about Danny in the preceding book, they both choose Joe to make the pitch for going abroad, as she considers him "a better talker than we’ll ever be"), etc.

As usual, science is bolstered: Bullfinch gives the patent for the Zero Maker to the American Science Foundation, Meg wants to be a zoologist because of Gerald Durrell (a childhood hero of mine as well), we learn the mnemonic device for grading/classifying stars ("Oh, Be A Fine Girl, Kiss Me"), one of the scientists says “We’d never learn much if we didn’t try tackling the impossible" and Joe gets to state the aesthetic counterpoint with "To me, it’ll always be mysterious and beautiful and as clear as mud".

Also as usual, the book folds in a lot of literature references: The Sword in the Stone, Wizard of Oz, Shakespeare (Joe wants to see his birthplace), Dickens, H. G. Wells, Silas Marner ("that rotten book", Joe calls it - and I agree), The Hobbit ("a good book", Joe calls it).In fact, Joe is rapidly developing quite the literate character - he gets worked up pitching the idea of a trip to the parents and finishes by quoting Shakespeare, and later quotes Edward Eager’s "Knight’s Castle."

As a small note on the series "as a series": reporter's covering the expedition scoff at Danny's involvement with helping to invent the Zero-Maker (maybe the "Anti-Gravity Paint" spaceflight was hushed up?), but other kids on board the cruise ship know who the famed Professor Bullfinch is!Also, Danny "sets his jaw stubbornly" yet again, and Dr. Grimes has a short cameo.

There's some nice "fish out of water" comedy involving the trip to England as well. This section made me laugh:

"There were strange words, too: the gas stations advertised petrol instead of gasoline, a road sign warned against bends instead of curves, the drug stores were called chemists, and shops labeled Family Butchers made Irene squeal, “Murderers!” Once, when they saw a notice saying LOOSE CHIPPINGS they thought they were coming to a village with an odd name, but it turned out to mean only that the road was being repaired and had gravel on it."

Usually, I try to be vague about how the books end but this one deserves a little discussion in the spoiler zone, so, if you never intend to read it, join me.If so, I can promise you it's gently profound:

(view spoiler)

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